The trucking industry wants to hire teenagers to solve its driver shortage, but some truckers say it’s a 'ludicrous' idea that could put everyone on the road at risk

rCarner/ShutterstockTruck drivers don’t agree with a new bill sponsored by industry leaders.
  • The Drive-SAFE Act was introduced to Congress earlier this year to lower the age minimum to become a truck driver from 21 to 18.
  • While industry leaders say the bill could help ease the truck driver shortage, truckers say the bill would make their jobs more dangerous. Younger drivers tend to get in more accidents.
  • Trucking analysts say there’s only one way to ease the trucker shortage: increase pay.

The average truck driver is around 55 years old.

“More people are leaving the trucking industry and retiring,” Jeremy Reymer, CEO and founder of Indianapolis-based trucking recruitment software DriverReach, told Business Insider. “We’re not getting enough new entrants to replace them.”

Add the old age of truckers to the list of reasons for America’s trucking shortage, which reached a peak this year. The American Trucking Associations estimates that the US is short about 50,000 truck drivers. In 2016, the shortage was only 36,000.

The ATA, a trade association for trucking companies, says one way to improve the driver shortage is to lower the interstate driving age to 18. Right now, you need to be 21 to drive a truck interstate.

Currently, due to those age restrictions, 18-year-olds who are interested in blue collar professions aren’t able to pursue trucking as they start looking for full-time employment. Andrew Lynch, the cofounder and president of Columbus-based supply-chain company Zipline Logistics, told Business Insider that changing this age requirement is “low-hanging fruit” for fixing the driver shortage.

“Being able to catch people right after high school is critical,” Lynch said.

That’s a leading reason the ATA and the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA) are helping support a bill called the DRIVE-Safe Act, which was introduced by a Republican senator and congressman earlier this year.

However, not everyone agrees – particularly drivers and safety advocates. They said the idea could put them and everyone else on the road at harm.

“There really isn’t any question that younger drivers are going to be more likely to crash and more likely to be involved in serious crashes,” Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told Business Insider. “The statistics are clear. And that it might somehow be different if they were driving 40-ton vehicles, that’s absurd.”

Trucking as a path for new graduates

Spencer said trucking companies support the bill not just because they want new entrants to the field, but also a labour source that doesn’t require as high a salary. Young people tend to be paid less across all industries: the median salary for an 18-year-old is $US16,700, about $US35,300 less than the median 45-year-old.

Reymer, who is also a board member of the Indiana Motor Truck Association, suggested a different evaluation. Industries like energy or construction do not have the same age limitations as trucking. So, when new high school graduates are looking for a job, they would likely sign up for one of those other industries rather than consider trucking.

“When you graduate high school, trucking is not even a path you can go on,” Reymer said. “That’s not even an option. There are other trades you may go down that do lead to a good road to a successful middle class career.

“The only chance you would enter trucking is if you failed once or multiple times somewhere else,” Reymer noted.

Teenage drivers are the most likely to get into crashes

Research indicates that drivers aged 18 to 25 have the highest crash rate of adult drivers. The crash rate of 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds is more than two times higher than those in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.

“The idea to put 18-year-olds behind an 80,000-pound vehicle is just ludicrous,” truck driver Jacob Moore, who lives in Fort Branch, Indiana, told Business Insider. “It doesn’t matter about how much training they have, they still will be immature.”

The bill stipulates that drivers under 21 will have to complete an apprenticeship program before becoming full-fledged drivers. The program involves 400 hours of on-duty driving time, at least 240 of which are completed with an experienced driver.

“The DRIVE-Safe Act institutes a culture of safety so that as the rising generation of drivers matures into this field, they embody a high standard of excellence,” Mark Allen, president and CEO of IFDA, said in a statement to Business Insider.

Could this bill help the trucking shortage?

Spencer, who began his career as a truck driver in 1974, said the numbers suggest there isn’t actually a truck driver shortage. The numbers instead point to a turnover issue.

Due to the long-haul trucking industry’s relatively low pay and challenging working conditions, turnover rates are high. They have reached more than 100% at some of the country’s largest companies, meaning that they go through more than one employee each year for one position.

The economists who study trucking say there’s really only one way to attract new drivers to the industry and keep the ones who are already there: increase pay. Driver salaries are as much as 50% lower than they were in the 1970s, a Business Insider analysis found in August.

“Wages are so far below what they need to be that we’re having issues finding drivers,” David Ross, managing director of the St. Louis business bank Stifel, previously told Business Insider.

Recently, salaries have been increasing to the tune of around 10 to 12%. But Ross said pay would need to go up by around 40 to 50% in order to keep drivers in their seats.

“It’s really not a shortage of drivers,” Michael Belzer, an economics professor at Wayne State University who studies the freight industry, told Business Insider. “There are people out there who are willing. They just don’t want to work for that low salary.”

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